The defensive back positions could lead this year's NFL draft in first-round picks. The crop of cornerbacks is especially strong.
"Cornerback is a solid class. There's talent at the top and 'nickel' backs late in the draft. The safety class is one of the worst in a long time," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins, 5-10, 197, of South Florida is the top prospect. Jenkins is a true shut-down cornerback who is mechanically and fundamentally outstanding. He can turn his hips and run with speedy receivers and is very athletic. Jenkins has the cockiness of a top corner and he adds value as a kick-returner. He ran 4.39 at the combine, offers immediate starting ability and Pauline sees Jenkins being selected in the top 15.
Leodis McKelvin, 5-10, 190, of Troy State is a physical corner with outstanding ball skills and better than average instincts. McKelvin is a game-breaking punt-returner who ran 4.41 at the combine and also figures to be a top 15 prospect.
Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie, 6-1, 184, is set to become the first Tennessee State player selected in the first round since Ed "Too Tall" Jones. Rodgers-Cromartie had a solid Senior Bowl week and then stole the show in the game.
The cornerback also played safety at the Senior Bowl and lit up the combine with an impressive workout that included a 4.37 40. He's a top 15 prospect.
Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib, 6-0, 202, is ultra-productive. He has tremendous ball skills, makes plays on the ball in the air, cuts the field in half and can also play wide receiver. He may have slipped in the rankings as a result of a 4.51 at the combine, but ran 4.44 at his pro day. He's a middle of round one prospect.
Kenny Phillips, 6-2, 212, of Miami figures to be the first safety selected. He's explosive, sudden and has solid ball and coverage skills. The only knock on Phillips is that he's not always as aggressive physically as you would expect from a player his size. He has sideline to sideline range and top 10 talent, but has fallen due to inconsistency and 4.5's at the combine. He's a second half of round one prospect.
Brandon Flowers, 5-9, 190, of Virginia Tech is just right for a team looking for a "cover two" or zone cornerback. Flowers has solid ball skills, can play off the line and break on the ball, but he may be too small and too slow to play press coverage. He ran 4.55 at the combine and Pauline projects Flowers to be picked in the top half of round two.
Reggie Smith, 6-0, 199, of Oklahoma can play corner or safety. He makes a lot of plays on the ball in the air, is smart and always around the ball. He missed Oklahoma's bowl loss to West Virginia due to an ankle injury and has yet to run for scouts. He'll run on April 9 and that'll determine where he's selected. Pauline projects Smith to be a middle of round two prospect.
Marcellous Johnson, 6-0, 207, of Arkansas State is a fast-rising safety on the strength of a faster-than-expected 4.45 at the combine. He's athletic, instinctive and finds the ball in the air. He's a good centerfielder and outstanding special teams player. He'll go in the second half of round two.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick, 5-10, 192, of Boise State is another guy on the rise. Scandrick is physical and can play man or zone. He's instinctive, defeats opponents to defend the pass and has solid fundamentals. He's rising on the strength of a 4.35 at the combine.
Antoine Cason, 6-0, 191, is an opportunistic ball hawk. The Arizona cornerback is always around the action, has a penchant for interceptions and is a good special teams player. He lacks top end speed, ran in the 4.5's at the combine and did not run at his pro day, which raised red flags. In a zone type system he could excel. He's a late second-round prospect.
No defensive back is rising faster than Justin King, 5-11, 192, of Penn State. King is a productive cornerback with good fundamentals and a quick back pedal. He can turn his hips and close and will fight to defend the throw. What has King rising so quickly are 4.31 and 4.32 electronic times at the combine. He was not regarded as highly until the combine, as King's junior year was not up to the standards of his sophomore season. King may have moved all the way from the third round and into the bottom of round one.